This story was originally delivered as a message during a Sunday morning service at Crosswalk Church in Waukesha, WI.
A coronary event may kill your mortal body, but an attack on your heart puts your very soul at risk.
Home. They were finally heading home. And they were, oh, so close. The refugees were on the long journey back to their homeland. When they reached the border of the country that stood between them and home, their worst fears were realized – armed men stood in their way and they were refused entry. The entire band, including women, children, and babies, had to travel miles and miles out of their way, adding tremendous hardship to their journey. The refugees’ hatred for this inhospitable nation lasted for decades. After they had resettled in their homeland, laws were enforced that forbade any of their people to marry one of their hated enemies.
But many years later, under very unusual circumstances, a man and a woman from these different peoples broke the Law and married one another. This fine woman was devoted to her husband, her adopted people, and worshiped their God. You can read all the details of this amazing story in the book of Ruth in your Bibles.
This couple, named Boaz and Ruth, had a son named Obed. Obed, in turn, fathered a son named Jesse. And Jesse had many sons. Jesse was a very devote Jew, and so wanted to keep the Law given by God completely. The Jewish Law forbids a Jewish woman from marrying a Moabite man. Yet this was precisely what Obed’s grandparents, Boaz and Ruth, had done.
Jesse’s Heart Attacked
According to Jewish tradition, Jesse’s heart was attacked.
Although Jesse was already the father of seven sons, his heart was tormented. His grandmother was a Moabite, which made him one-quarter Moabite. Yet, he himself had married Nitzevet, a beautiful, devout Jewish woman. Was Jesse breaking God’s command be being married to his beautiful Jewish wife? The thought disturbed Jesse so much that he determined he would never sleep with his wife, Nitzevet. No, never again. Unfortunately, Jesse did not bother consulting Nitzevet on this decision. And Nitzevet definitely wanted more children! She knew her Scriptures well and thought back to the time before the Jews had traveled into Egypt when Tamar had a similar problem. Nitzevet considered Tamar’s approach to resolving her issue and decided that if it worked for Tamar, it could work for her.
The Questionable Pregnancy
The story is preserved in the Talmud, which records much Jewish history and teaching. The story is written that one night when Jesse had gone into the town, Nitzevet disguised herself as a prostitute. She then went into town herself. Per her plan, Nitzevet found Jesse and seduced him. Jesse, not recognizing his own wife, assumed this woman was a prostitute and slept with her. Through this one encounter, Nitzevet became pregnant. However, she never embarrassed Jesse by revealing that she had been the one who seduced him that fateful night. When it eventually became embarrassingly apparent that Nitzevet was pregnant, Jesse was righteously outraged, quite sure he was not the father. He had not slept with Nitzevet for months! But since Jesse loved Nitzevet, and had known her to be a godly woman, he did not divorce her or have her stoned, as Jewish Law allowed.
These are the circumstances into which David was born. The Bible tells us that David had a “ruddy appearance,” which suggests that he looked quite different than his siblings. (The term ruddy means red – could David have been a redhead?)
I can imagine the family assembling for the annual family portrait. Since David is the youngest, Nitzevet protests, “Jesse, why is David in the back? No one will be able to see him!” Jesse obliges Nitzevet and reluctantly brings David to the front. But Jesse positions David off to the side – it will be much easier to crop him out of the picture later this way. Good thing they didn’t have cameras in David’s time.
The Talmud, a non-Biblical historical narrative, helps clarify some of the unusual happenings in the Biblical account. We have to remember that this is not Biblical material – therefore, we are not as assured of its truthfulness. However, I believe the story is likely to be mostly, if not wholly accurate, because it fills in the gaps in the Biblical account so well.
A King to Replace Saul
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long do you intend to mourn for Saul? I have rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your horn with olive oil and go! I am sending you to Jesse in Bethlehem, for I have selected a king for myself from among his sons.” Samuel replied, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me!” But the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord .’ Then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you should do. You will anoint for me the one I point out to you.” Samuel did what the Lord told him. When he arrived in Bethlehem, the elders of the city were afraid to meet him. They said, “Do you come in peace?” He replied, “Yes, in peace. I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” So he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they arrived, Samuel noticed Eliab and said to himself, “Surely, here before the Lord stands his chosen king!” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t be impressed by his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. God does not view things the way men do. People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab and presented him to Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one, either.” Then Jesse presented Shammah. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel. But Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Is that all of the young men?” Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest one, but he’s taking care of the flock.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we cannot turn our attention to other things until he comes here.” So Jesse had him brought in. Now he was ruddy, with attractive eyes and a handsome appearance. The Lord said, “Go and anoint him. This is the one!” So Samuel took the horn full of olive oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers. The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day onward. Then Samuel got up and went to Ramah.
1 Samuel 16:1-13 NET
In this scripture, when Samuel asks to see all of Jesse’s sons, we seldom stop to ask ourselves why David is excluded. If Jesse did not consider David to be his own son, it makes perfect sense that Jesse would not have presented David to Samuel. But then note the curious response that Samuel gives Jesse. Samuel does not ask if Jesse has any other
sons. Rather, as one translation puts it, Saul asks “Are there no other lads?” (I imagine Saul speaking with a Scottish accent!) To which Jesse reluctantly admits that well, yes, but… There is David (that illegitimate son of his wife.) David is so poorly regarded, he is relegated to watching the sheep. Shepherds were among the lowest of the low in Jewish culture.
When David summoned and presented to Samuel, the Lord tells Samuel that David, the one whom his own family is ashamed of, this is the one that the Lord has chosen. Samuel anoints David as King over Israel “in the presence of his brothers.” Can you imagine the discussion among David’s brothers later that day when Samuel had left?
Sometime later, Jesse sends David with supplies to the Israelite army and to David’s brothers who are assembled for the battle. David arrives to find a standoff between the Philistines and the Israelites, who are led by King Saul. David is incensed when he hears Goliath boasting against the Lord. He indignantly asks why no one has agreed to fight this Philistine – and his brothers openly chastise David.
Multiple Heart Attacks
David wrote most of the poems and songs that comprise the Book of Psalms. As we read David’s psalms, we sense a soul whose heart has been attacked and wounded many times. One who has suffered deeply and yet has learned to trust God in every trial. Even though God sees him through his trials, we still hear the anxiety and pain caused by those trials in many of his psalms:
- “Even though my father and mother abandon me, the Lord would take me in.”
- “O God, why have you rejected us so long? Why is your anger so intense against the sheep of your own pasture?”
- “Do not take your holy spirit from me!”
- “Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Get up! Do not reject us forever. Why do you look the other way? Why do you ignore our suffering and oppression?”
- “My God, I cry out during the day, but you do not answer, and during the night my prayers do not let up.”
Through these varied attacks over many years, David learned to trust God, to pour out the troubles of his heart to God. And David became known as “the man after God’s own heart.” Without the trials, the depth of relationship with God would never have come.
David and Jesus
I cannot help but notice the similarities between David and Jesus. Just glance through this list, and it is remarkable. Actually, it is more likely intentional. God shaped David’s life as a pattern, so when Messiah came, we would see these similarities which would help us recognize the Messiah.
- Both David and Jesus were born in suspicious circumstances. Both were suspected, although wrongly, of being illegitimate children of unfaithful women.
- Both had tensions with their families. We’ve seen how David’s family shunned him. The Gospels tell us that Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in him.
- Both were from Bethlehem.
- Samuel anointed David before his family while King Saul still reigned. Jesus was announced as the King while Caesar still ruled.
- As David’s story continues, King Saul attempts to murder David. Similarly, when Jesus was born, King Herod order all the children in the region where Jesus was born to be massacred. Both David and Jesus threatened reigning kings to the extent that were ready to murder to hold onto their positions.
- Both David and Jesus experienced abandonment issues. David wrote the famous Psalm 22, where he cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Centuries later, Jesus cries out these very words since they represent exactly how He feels while He is bearing the sin of all mankind while nailed to the cross.
Psalm 27:8-10 “My heart tells me to pray to you, and I do pray to you, O Lord. Do not reject me! Do not push your servant away in anger! You are my deliverer! Do not forsake or abandon me, O God who vindicates me! Even if my father and mother abandoned me, the Lord would take me in.”
Matthew 26:38-39 “Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’”
- Both Jesus and David taught with great wisdom. Centuries later, both of their words have been immortalized in the Holy Scriptures. David’s words are found in the Psalms, and Jesus’ teachings are recorded in the Gospels.
Now, if David had written a self-help book on how to raise your children, I wouldn’t buy it. If he wrote a book about how to have a great marriage relationship, I wouldn’t touch it. But David wrote THE book on how to learn to cast your cares on God and draw near to Him. What he wrote has instructed generations on how to survive any heart attack that might be thrown our way. I bought David’s book – as have millions of other people. It’s known as the Psalms. And David’s writings from his wounded heart have helped people for over two millennia draw strength from his own experiences of God’s faithfulness. People in the midst of war, people being persecuted, people facing death through famine, plague, or violence have all found comfort in the Psalms of David.
The Hearts of God’s People
The Bible is chock full of stories of ordinary people, like you and me, whose hearts were attacked. Let’s visit just a few of those people’s stories.
Saul was chosen king, but when his heart was attacked – he failed. He tired of waiting on God and decided instead to please the people he ruled. So, he impatiently offered a sacrifice to God himself rather than waiting for Samuel to come to offer the sacrifice, as he had been told. God rejected Saul as King. “To obey is better than sacrifice.”
Abram and Sarai
Abram and Sarai were broken-hearted. They desperately wanted children and remained childless until their old age. God had even promised Abram that he would have many descendants! (Did God have a wicked sense of humor?) Abram is in his nineties and still no son. Then God provided a miracle baby, whom Abram and Sarai name Isaac, which means laughter. Why laughter? Because Abram was 100 and Sarai 90 years old when Laughter was born!
Abraham is overjoyed that God did indeed remember him and provided Isaac so his name could continue. But then God asks Abraham to kill his only son as part of a religious sacrifice. Abraham’s heart is attacked again. But the Scriptures say Abraham trusted God, Isaac was spared, and Abram’s faith was counted to him as righteousness.
Joseph’s heart was attacked repeatedly – his brothers hated him as he was growing up. His brothers eventually sold him into slavery; he was betrayed by his master’s wife; Joseph’s cellmate, the cupbearer, promised to remember Joseph and promptly forgot him and left Joseph to rot in prison.
Finally, after the Pharaoh had a ghastly dream, Joseph was remembered. Joseph interpreted this dream for Pharaoh. Recognizing the truth of Joseph’s interpretation, Pharaoh instructed Joseph to implement a plan to save all of Egypt and the surrounding nations from the drought that God had warned Pharaoh of in that dream.
God allowed Joseph’s heart to be attacked so violently so that eventually all Israel and many other people could be saved.
Hannah’s heart was attacked because of her barrenness. The women in her town mercilessly taunted Hannah because she could not bear a child. Surely this was a sign that God was punishing Hannah, and she was not worthy of God’s blessings.
Year after year, Hannah went to the Temple to pray, pleading with God to give her a son. One year she was at the Temple late into the evening, weeping before God. The priest came upon her and assumed she was drunk and rebuked her.
Hannah protested and explained she was not drunk, but broken before God.
Eli, the priest, soundly corrected by Hannah, then blesses Hannah. God heard Hannah’s prayer – she became pregnant and gave birth to the prophet Samuel.
The Other Joseph
Imagine you are engaged to be married, and then you find out your betrothed has been cheating on you. The disbelief, the hurt, the anger. What a terrible attack on one’s heart to be betrayed in this manner.
This is just how Joseph’s heart was attacked when he learned his beloved fiancé Mary was pregnant. Joseph had no doubt he was not the father. How this must have tormented his soul! He considered divorcing Mary, but privately to spare her the shame.
One night, God sent an angel to Joseph to reassure him of Mary’s faithfulness. Joseph went ahead and married Mary, and by doing so, Joseph became Jesus’s earthly dad.
Even Jesus’ heart was attacked many times while He dwelt among us. We read of how His heart ached when He saw a dear friend lifeless – He was moved so much so that He wept. Again, Jesus’ heart was attacked when He was betrayed by one of the men in His inner circle. Yet again, His heart was attacked, this time by His own Father. For the Father was firm that there was no other way to accomplish His purpose than through the agony of the cross.
But through each of these attacks on His heart, Jesus remained faithful, trusting and obeying the Father.
We must remember that the reason Jesus became a man and dwelt among men, women, boys, and girls, was so He could redeem them all. His work was to once and for all deal with the problem of sin. The only way this could be accomplished was through the death of Jesus. Not a natural death; rather a cruel, painful death that had been devised to punish the worst criminals of the time. Crucifixion was specifically designed to be a prolonged, agonizing execution.
Jesus desired to accomplish God’s purposes, yet like any of us, He would have rather avoided suffering an excruciating death. Three times He pleads with the Father to find another way, any other way, to redeem His people.
There is no. Other. Way.
Jesus is arrested, tried, whipped, and crucified. While dying on the cross, what He may have dreaded the most happens. Because He has taken on every sin of every person in all of history, God the Father turns His back on Jesus. The eternal bond between Father and Son is somehow broken. At this moment, Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned Me?”
Precisely when Jesus felt most abandoned by God is when God was doing his greatest work through Jesus.
You and Me
God never allows us to suffer for no reason. God permits us each to experience heart attacks, but not because God is perverse. No, God realizes that in this fallen world, the only way for us to learn to trust in Him deeply is through allowing us to experience trials. God is always present, always with us, ever waiting to help us, no matter how difficult the trouble.
James explains further that we should expect and welcome trials in our lives. James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Remember Joseph, who had been sold into slavery and suffered in prison? Years after that horrendous act, Joseph reconciles with his brothers. As he forgives them, explains what God has taught him about his hardships. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”
This is a clear statement of one of God’s principles that stands for all time.
God will often use our most painful experiences to glorify Himself. When we suffer, we are being prepared to attend to others who are suffering. The difference is that after our testing, we no longer look down upon people with pity, but we settle in alongside them as fellow sufferers. We would not be prepared to help them had we ourselves not suffered.
When we feel abandoned by God, He may be doing His greatest work in us to build our character and draw us closer to Him.
Strengthen Your Heart
When we feel everything is going against us, that God has abandoned us, that death would be better than facing the circumstances we are facing, we need to recognize that our hearts are under attack. At these times, we need to remember that God is faithful. God knew you and me while we were being formed in our mothers’ wombs. God had a plan for you before He created the world.
Since all that is true, God has certainly not forgotten you. Rather, He is drawing you into closer relationship with Him by learning what faith really means. It’s easy to believe in God when everything is going well, and life is easy. (And equally simple to forget God when life is so easy.) But when you reach your rope’s end and you have completely run out of options, when life has gotten beyond you, when you are so low that you stretch up to reach bottom, then you are right where God wants you. For then, when you have finally exhausted yourself, God will step in and lift you up. “When I am weak, then I am strong. For God’s power is perfected in us in weakness.”
Examine your life and the heart attacks you have been given. Ask yourself what God was teaching you or preparing you for by allowing that struggle in your life. (Or perhaps is still teaching you.) More than likely, whatever attacked you, even if it was meant to harm you, God allowed it for good.
How will you now bless others through what you have learned? How can you strengthen someone else’s faith by sharing their burden in a way that is unique to you because of what God has taught you?
Ask God for clarity on what He has been doing in you and how you can bless others.
Prayer for Enlightened Hearts
“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him, – since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened – so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength.”
 Deuteronomy 23:4
 See the Talmud.
 Genesis 38:6-26
 While Nitzevet knew her Scriptures well, he methods for applying them to daily life were lacking. Just because a story is recorded in Scripture does not mean that we are to emulate that behavior. In many cases, it is just the opposite – God has recorded the errors of those who came before us so we can learn from their mistakes.
 Psalm 86:16
 1 Samuel 16:12
 1 Samuel 17:28
 Psalm 27:10
 Psalm 74:1
 Psalm 51:11
 Psalm 44:23-24
 Psalm 22:2
 1 Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22
 John 7:5
 Luke 2:11
 Matthew 2:2, Matthew 27:29, 37
 Mark 15:34
 1 Samuel 15:22
 Genesis 21
 Genesis 22:15-18; Hebrews 11:17-18; Romans 4:3; James 2:23
 Genesis 37:28
 1 Samuel 1:1-18
 To clarify, this is a paraphrase, and not exactly what Hannah said to Eli.
 Matthew 1:20-24
 John 11:1-35
 Matthew 26:16
 1 Peter 2:22
 Hebrews 7:27
 James 1:2-4
 Genesis 50:20
 Jeremiah 1:5
 Ephesians 1:4
 2 Corinthians 12:9
 Ephesians 1:17-19